PHILADELPHIA - Basketball, like virtually all sports, is a game of odds. There are statistics. There are point spreads. There are favorites and underdogs.
At the end of the day, though, those numbers disappear and their significance is no longer relevant.
The same can't be said for the nearly 6.5 million Americans battling cancer annually.
For cancer patients and their families, numbers carry with them a more solemn and urgent meaning -- sometimes demarcating the bridge between recovery and remission.
That's why Temple head coach Fran Dunphy and his staff swapped out their dress shoes in favor of sneakers in today's contest against the Saint Joseph's Hawks -- to bring awareness to a disease that affects one in every two men and one in every three women nationwide each year.
Since 1996, Dunphy has participated in the Coaches vs. Cancer program -- a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).
Nearly 2,000 Division I, II and III college coaches across the country are involved in the Coaches vs. Cancer program, but perhaps no two are more recognizable or connected with the movement than the head coaches of today's contest in Dunphy and Saint Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli.
Today's game was one of four games highlighted nationally as part of the program's “Suits and Sneakers” weekend due in large part to the never-ending contributions of both Dunphy and Martelli. The two, clad in sneakers of course, joined Larry Rosen, the game's play-by-play announcer for The Comcast Network, at half court 90 minutes prior to the game to talk about their programs' respective contributions to the Coaches vs. Cancer cause.
Named the 2002 Coaches vs. Cancer National Coach of the Year, Dunphy was quick to downplay his regional influence in raising cancer awareness in the Greater Philadelphia region.
“I will tell you flat out,” he said when asked in a post-game interview of his involvement. “Nobody is better than Martelli in this cause. No one. No one here in Philadelphia, certainly, but no one throughout the country.”
“The man never says no, is everywhere he can be, and I'm very proud that he has done what he has done for this cause,” continued Dunphy of his fellow co-chair.
For Dunphy, the sneaker swap is merely one of the many activities in which he participates year-round. He also runs the Tourney Tip-Off Breakfast and the Jim Maloney Coaches vs. Cancer Golf Classic to raise money for the American Cancer Society, to name two.
His ultimate goal?
To bring awareness to the general public about both careful prevention and early treatment of the disease.
Every day, more than 1,500 Americans die from cancer -- accounting for nearly one in every four deaths nationally.
“There's nobody -- including the people in this room -- that is not affected by cancer, so this is our small way of giving back to the cause,” he said.
“The greatest thing about Coaches vs. Cancer is that the movement is spreading like crazy. We've got so many young people out there that are doing great community service projects that are raising extraordinary amounts of money.”
He just so happens to coach some of the “young people” to which he referred.
Earlier this year, Dunphy took his team to the Astra Zeneca Hope Lodge near the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, where the team served dinner to the Lodge's cancer patients and their families.
In 2008, he took the Owls to participate in Philadelphia's Walk for the Cure as one of only three local teams that ran in the event's 5K.
On the sidelines, the animated Dunphy is often seen gesticulating wildly, sometimes even kneeling on the hardwood to make a point. It only seems logical then, that the passionate Dunphy translates that enthusiasm to his off-court fundraising endeavors as well, and is part and parcel of the success of Philadelphia's chapter of Coaches vs. Cancer.
After all who better than Dunphy could understand the importance of having the odds in one's favor -- both as a basketball coach and someone who works closely with those affected by cancer?
That's why he's working tirelessly off the court -- to help those cancer patients in the Greater Philadelphia area beat the odds.
by Kami Mattioli, Owlsports.com Columnist